It was a situation in which Raritan has found itself a little too often for its liking in recent years, according to coach Anthony Petruzzi. But the end result this time was different … and far more enjoyable for the Rockets.
Raritan spotted St. John Vianney an early two-touchdown lead Saturday but stormed back for a 23-20 Class A Central victory over the Lancers. Riley Sullivan led the comeback through the air, hitting on 14 of 22 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns.
The Raritan defense also stiffened in the second half, allowing Vianney (3-5, 2-4) just 11 yards on the ground in the second half after the Lancers had compiled 166 rushing yards before intermission.
“One of the goals we set as a team,” Petruzzi said, “was to be able to come back from deficit. Now, we’ve fallen behind 14-0 before over the past couple of years. When it happened today, you could see it in our kids’ eyes that they were going to come back. They are tough kids and they have a lot of fight in them.”
Said Sullivan, “When we got behind, we knew we had to fight back.”
Vianney grabbed a 7-0 lead with 3:44 left in the first quarter when Bill Demato found Julanee Prince with a 66-yard touchdown strike. After forcing a quick Raritan punt, the Lancers again struck quickly, when Matt Falco bounced an inside handoff outside and raced 77 yards down the left sideline for a 14-0 lead with just under 10 minutes left in the opening half. Falco finished with 107 yards on six carries.
Raritan (3-5, 2-3) answered on its next possession when Sullivan and James Wines connected for a 25-yard touchdown with 4:35 remaining before halftime. The Rockets closed the gap to within 14-13 two minutes later on a 32-yard touchdown strike from Sullivan to Dylan Dewysockie after a Vianney fumble.
The Lancers seemed poised to take control of the game on their next possession, moving from their 18 to the Raritan eight. But, on first-and-goal, Sean Ennis intercepted a Lancer aerial and returned it 60 yards to the Vianney 35. Three plays later, Tom Pulcine booted a 29-yard field goal on the final play of the first half for a 16-14 Rocket edge.
“Vianney is a good team,” Petruzzi said. “They did a good job stuffing the box to stop our running game. So we had to try to get things going through the air. Our quarterback, our receivers and our line did a great job with our passing game.”
The Rockets foiled another Vianney attempt to re-take the lead when Colby Jones broke through to block Kevin Fitzpatrick’s 25-yard field goal try with 7:47 to play.
“Our coaches do a great job working with us on that play in practice,” said Jones. “The opening was there, but I got grabbed a little. It felt awesome when I blocked it.”
Said Petruzzi: “That’s just an example of someone trying to find a way to make a play. Our guys are hungry. They’re finding ways to pick each other up.”
Jones scored the game’s final touchdown with a diving grab of a two-yard flip from Sullivan with 45 seconds left. Prince, who finished with seven catches for 127 yards, forged the final score when he caught his second touchdown of the day via a 17-yard pass from Demato on the last play of thee game.
“Battling back like we did today is a great accomplishment for this team,” Petruzzi said. “They should be proud of themselves.”